The Street Sweeper



Title: The Street Sweeper

Author: Elliot Perlman

Published: Random House; Vintage Books, 2011


The 21st century struggles of an African American probationary janitor in a Manhattan hospital and an untenured Australian historian at Columbia University lead to one greater story encompassing the civil rights struggle in the United States and the Nazi crimes against humanity in Europe.

The Street Sweeper deals with memory, love, guilt, heroism, the extremes of racism and unexpected kindness, crossing continents and time in an epic tale of unforgettable force.


Seamlessly intertwined, this book tells the stories of hospital janitor Lamont Williams, and university professor Adam Zignelik. The stories of these men are woven together over 554 pages, and the threads get stronger and stronger along the way, via mutual connections and historical research that Adam is doing.

Now, I’m usually not much one for historical fiction (as my friends in my book club will attest to), but Elliot Perlman knows just how to hook me in. I adored his “Seven Types of Ambiguity”, and knew I had to check this one out. Perlman manages to weave together the historical, the personal, and the professional. Lamont is released from prison and is working as a janitor in a Manhattan hospital. He befriends an elderly patient who was in Auschwitz. Adam works as a professor awaiting tenure at Columbia University. Secondary to work related issues, his relationship falls down around him. As the stories of these two men develop, their paths cross in ways I didn’t expect, through Adam’s research and Lamont’s learning about Auschwitz. This gives both men’s lives more meaning, and though seemingly becoming more lost, helps them to find their way in life.

I love Perlman’s writing. I find it so easy to read, and though the book is over 500 pages, I read it quickly. It was one of those books I just got lost in, and time flew past when I was reading – I had to shake myself back to reality. To me, this is a sign of an excellent book!

Have you read any of Elliot Perlman’s books? Have you read this one? What did you think?


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